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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Coverage of President Obama's Appearance at GOP Retreat
Aired January 31, 2010 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: And we're going to turn to RELIABLE SOURCES now.
There is an age-old journalistic formula for covering any political event. And you've all seen it a million times. You play the sharpest and harshest sound bite from one side and then the other side. You write that the political rivals attacked, slammed or smacked each other, which side won, which side lost.
But when President Obama showed up at a House Republican retreat on Friday, they had a conversation, a strikingly civil exchange of views, a discussion of how maybe, just maybe, they could work together. And the somewhat surprised journalists had to find some other way to tell that story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: We've never seen a face-off quite like this between a president and members of the opposition party.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: No one who was watching had ever seen anything like it before.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have lost, it turns out...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: There were a few jabs, of course, as when the president complained that the Republicans had turned his health care legislation into a caricature.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: But if you were to listen to the debate and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you'd think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot.
The problem we have sometimes is a media that responds only to slash-and-burn-style politics. You don't get a lot of credit if I say, you know, I think Paul Ryan is a pretty sincere guy and has a beautiful family. Nobody's going to run that in the newspapers. Right?
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: So, was this something more than a feel-good event, and is the president right about our having a slash-and-burn media?
Joining now in San Francisco, Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com. And here in Washington, Chip Reid, chief White House correspondent for CBS News; and David Frum, former speechwriter for President Bush who now runs the Web site FrumForum.com.
Chip Reid, let's first go to this slash and burn question. Does the president have a point about our addiction to the really hot side of politics?
CHIP REID, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: Oh, absolutely. And it's often the bane of our existence. But we always look at -- you know, when I was in local news, you always ran to the fire or the double murder. And here we run to the political equivalent of that, and sometimes don't get into the substance of that.
And it's frustrating, but it is -- you know, you've got to get people's attention. So you've got to start with the fire first and then try to segue into the more important substance.
KURTZ: But that, of course, can have a distorting effect, as you realize.
Joan Walsh, this is what voters, at least in polls, say they want -- civility, working together. You wrote about Friday's session in Baltimore, that the president kicked some ill-informed and obstreperous GOP butt -- I'm cleaning that up a little bit for television.
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: Thank you. Thank you.
KURTZ: So you're being a tad partisan here?
WALSH: I was being a tad partisan after being not partisan at all, all day. I was on Twitter, transfixed. I had so much else to do that day, Howie. It was a really busy day, but the television was on and I had never seen anything like it.
And I wrote nice things about the Republicans during the day. But the cumulative effect, at the end of it, I think, was a big win for President Obama.
You had Mike Pence, shortly afterwards, saying, oh, I'm not sure we would do this again. And, you know, it was funny. Pence was, like, the first person to say, oh, the president has to go, we've taken way too many questions.
So there was a sense that it may have backfired on the GOP. But let me just step back for one second.
And I don't want to be partisan about this. I think if we did this regularly, with whomever was the president, with both parties, I'd like do see Obama and progressives do the same thing over the public option and the things that progressives don't like in the health care reform bill. I think it would be fascinating, and it was great TV, maybe just for wonks like us. I'm not sure.
KURTZ: I thought it was great TV as well, and we'll come back to that point.
David Frum, the parties have real differences. Is there a press bias toward moderation, cooperation, can't we all just get along?
DAVID FRUM, FRUMFORUM.COM: No. There's a press bias to conflict.
On a thing like this health care bill, where the president has a point, where so many of the ideas contained in it have been pioneered by Republicans, he set up some possibilities for actually achieving something that I think both the political system, as well as the media system, oppose.
I want to say something about the institutionalization of this. This not something we're going to be able to do again. Everyone's been talking about doing it again.
KURTZ: Like the British prime minister at question time.
FRUM: I grew up in Canada, and let me tell you, question time is nobody's idea of a good conversation, because the next time it happens -- the reason it was so powerful was the Republicans didn't plan their line of questioning. They didn't have a thought about, we're going to focus on jobs, this is jobs day, we're going to trap (ph) the mistakes.
KURTZ: It was unscripted. It was almost accidental, yes.
FRUM: A real question time is like a cross-examination, and the next time it happens, the questions will be lined up in order, the answers will be more staged. I'm afraid this is a one-off. We will never see anything like this again.
WALSH: Can I just ask a question, David?
I'm not sure -- it wasn't entirely unscripted. They really did come up with a lot of questions, some of which contained either errors or false assumptions or really narrow partisan setups for the president. So I wouldn't call it completely unscripted, or like he just wandered into a Republican meeting.
They were prepared to some extent. I don't think they were prepared for him to do it as long as he did, or for him to push back as hard as he did. He really -- he was genial he was charming, he asked about their kids, and then he said, that's not true, you're misrepresenting me. So there was a script.
FRUM: Parliamentary question times though start with the opposition party figuring out, what answer do we want to drive the person to say on television? And you work backward from there. That obviously did not happen. And next time -- and when he meets with the Democratic Caucus, I think that may happen. They may actually, then, especially the left side of the party, a more coordinated attack on him that will be harder to deal with and less susceptible to Obama's genial qualities.
WALSH: We'll see.
KURTZ: I suspect it may be hard to duplicate.
Let me get to Chip Reid here.
But in terms of the image that was projected during that 90 minutes, how is it that the cameras stayed only on the president and we didn't get to actually see the Republican members of Congress that were asking those questions?
REID: Well, I think in many ways, the president really did wallop them there. I think the White House feels that way, and it was because the Republicans were fighting with one hand, maybe both hands, tied behind their back.
First of all, they were not on camera asking the questions. It was just a disembodied voice, at least in the live version, because they didn't have it set up so they could have two live cameras at the same time. It was just a technical thing.
Later, we used the questions in my evening news piece, for example. But if you were watching it live, it was like the president alone was up there.
KURTZ: Up on Mount Olympus.
REID: Exactly. And they would ask the question. And they're in no more "you lie" moment mode right now.
The Republicans are back off from that. They are not in a position to -- they wanted so badly to say that's nonsense, or you know that's not true, to fight back, but they couldn't because of the format. So, basically what happened, whatever sports metaphor you want to use, mine is that they would ask a question, then the Republican defense would leave the field and Obama would run for a touchdown because they couldn't fight back.
KURTZ: We went five whole minutes without a sports metaphor, but thank you for that one.
REID: I squeezed two in.
KURTZ: Yes, you did.
I want to turn now to the State of the Union.
Commentators were saying the president was reeling, he was remote, detached, aloof, out of touch, stymied by the Republicans who had just cracked his filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. But as Obama tackled all kinds of issues in that speech, he also found time to take on one target not usually featured in such addresses. That would be us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The more the TV pundits reduce serious debates to silly arguments, big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But those sound bites continued, the pundits lining up rather predictably along liberal and conservative lines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the president -- if his goal was to hit the reset button, I think he succeeded.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a tone-deaf speech.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Overall, the tone of it was remarkably reasonable and commanding.
LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I thought it was like a cold bowl of oatmeal.
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: I thought his first State of the Union speech was just inspiring and genuine.
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: One conclusion I draw from last night was the president thinks we're all stupid.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: I thought it was a wonderful night for him.
MARY MATALIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There was no fundamental anything other than the same old stuff he's been saying for a year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: All right. So, it was somewhere between inspiring and oatmeal.
KURTZ: Look, the president, Chip Reid, went after Republicans, the Supreme Court, sitting right there, but also used your airwaves and CNN's airwaves, everybody's airwaves, to go after the likes of you.
Were you offended?
REID: Oh, not at all. That's part of the game. I would expect him to, and some of it's justified.
KURTZ: I can't recall hearing the media be a target in a State of the Union speech before. Maybe sometimes (ph).
REID: That may be true, but he certainly has targeted -- he targeted me personally at a town hall once. He saw me off to the side and he basically made that same attack, and said, "Right, Chip?" And the whole audience turned and looked at me.
Unfortunately, I wasn't in a position to defend myself or my profession. At that time, anyway.
KURTZ: Joan Walsh, you wrote that you liked the speech, but you were a little concerned that the president borrowed too much Republican rhetoric. But that didn't seem to be the lead or the theme on most of the news accounts.
WALSH: No. That's my theme. That's what I thought.
I thought that the main thing about it was that -- I was surprised and I was pleased that he took on Republican recalcitrance. I think it's fair to take on the media.
It's not Chip. It's not about Chip. It's more about people like me, although David and I certainly try to strive for common ground when we can.
But, you know, he's had a year where cable news treated the death panels like they were a real story and like they really existed. And I think he's got a fair complaint.
On the other hand, we love -- liberals loved his combative tone, especially with Republicans, but there was a lot of conservative rhetoric. He either believes that spending our way through this recession is necessary, or he believes the budget deficit is really a terrible thing. I'm not sure you can have both.
And his energy policy would have, I'm sure, made Sarah Palin smile. So there were definitely things that worried liberals.
KURTZ: All right.
On that point, you've worked on these kinds of speeches. Did the coverage reflect the substance of these proposals on hiring tax credits and offshore oil drilling and nuclear power, and a bunch of other things, or is it really all about the theater, how does the president come off when he's got that spotlight on him?
FRUM: Well, since it is theater, the coverage is right, because a lot of these proposals find a way of never seeing the light of day again. AND they're often there just for how they sound.
And for a president who complains about the media, he is very capable of playing off the media's weaknesses. I mean, you are very conscious of the time, where these speeches go. You know that people are going to change the channel at the top of the hour.
So, President Obama borrowed the old Clinton trick of, you go to 70 minutes and you put all your most liberal stuff in the last 10, because you know your people are going to watch all the way through the 70 minutes. The people you're trying to reach, the persuadables, they stop at 60, so they don't hear about the gays in the military. That's between 60 and 70.
KURTZ: And you really think that was a Machiavellian plot by...
FRUM: No, I'm sure it happened completely randomly. And, I mean, how much thought goes into these things? Not more than two months.
KURTZ: But just briefly, I mean, we do all analyze whether he has moved to the center, whether he's going to take the more moderate approach, whether he's scaled down his agenda.
REID: Right. Well, the bottom line is, when you have a 70- minute speech, you can reach whatever conclusion you want to reach.
You can reach into that speech and pull out the liberal stuff. And, of course, the liberals were saying, oh, my God, he's abandoned his base. And the conservatives were saying oh, my God, he's a wild- eyed liberal, he's going to continue with cap and trade and health care reform.
So that's why there aren't many State of the Union speeches that are thought of as great speeches when you look back historically, because they're everything. They've got everything.
FRUM: But the State of the Union is also written -- it's, like, written like an old-fashioned newspaper article. You know how when you write a newspaper piece you begin -- everyone is reading sentence one. And with each sentence, we lose readers.
Well, in a State of the Union, with each minute you lose viewers. So, the stuff you want everybody to hear is at the top. The stuff you want almost nobody to hear is at the bottom.
KURTZ: I'll keep that in mind.
FRUM: It's not built in logical order, it's built in order of attention.
KURTZ: There tends to be a one-liner that everybody remembers from these kinds of speeches. In this case, though, it was not spoken by the president. It was Chris Matthews.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He is post-racial, by all appearances. I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joan Walsh, I've got less than a minute. Your reaction to those words? WALSH: There's no such thing as post-racial, and so I disagree with Chris about that. But on the other hand, I think his heart really is in the right place in terms of -- you know, he roots for this president. Like that or not, people criticize him for that. But, you know, he was trying to say something positive on...
KURTZ: He definitely was trying to say something positive.
But did he put it rather clumsily, would you say, David Frum?
WALSH: I would say it was clumsy, yes.
FRUM: I think the meaning of it so leaps out at people, it almost defies comment. You just wonder what happens all the other hours of his life.
KURTZ: All right.
David Frum, Joan Walsh and Chip Reid, thanks very much for joining us.
When we come back, have the media missed the point on that Supreme Court ruling lifting the ban on campaign spending in campaigns?
Floyd Abrams and Jeffrey Toobin face off.
KURTZ: It was nothing short of a legal bombshell when the Supreme Court struck down limits on political spending by corporations nine days ago. Big companies and unions can now pour unlimited amounts into advocacy advertising aimed at defeating a candidate in the final 60 days of a general election.
Many journalists and commentators expressed alarm at the 5-4 ruling, with a "New York Times" editorial calling it a disastrous decision that has "thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century."
But in a "Wall Street Journal' interview yesterday, First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams said the media missed the point, and if free speech means anything, it must apply to corporations as well.
So we've decided to invite him on the program.
Joining us now from New York is Floyd Abrams and Jeffrey Toobin, senior legal analyst for CNN.
So, Floyd Abrams, a lot of the media attention in recent days has been on Justice Samuel Alito because he was caught mouthing the words "Not true," when President Obama criticized that very decision. But to get to the ruling itself, you recognize, you now are OK with the fact that Exxon or Microsoft could spend $1 million or $10 million on ads against a candidate and, in the name of free speech, you find that acceptable?
FLOYD ABRAMS, ATTORNEY: Yes, I'm OK with that in the same way I'm OK with the fact that CNN and "The New York Times" can speak out as they choose to. I think it's all inseparable.
As far as I'm concerned, we don't distinguish and shouldn't distinguish based on the corporate nature of an entity. The basic First Amendment principles here are two.
One is that when you speak about who to vote for president, which is what this documentary and this case was about, that's the most protected sort of speech of all. And the second is that when we decide whether we can ban or punish or criminalize speech, we don't do it on the basis of who is speaking.
KURTZ: All right. Let me go to Jeffrey Toobin on that point.
Does Floyd Abrams have a point in saying that under the previous law, until this ruling, media companies were exempted? So, you or I could come on CNN the day before an election and say anything we wanted about a campaign, but Citigroup or Merrill Lynch didn't have that right.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Well, let's draw a distinction here between speech you pay for, television commercials, and speech that is part of the freedom of the press, which is spoken of in the First Amendment explicitly.
Television advertisements, which is ultimately what this case is really about, have always been heavily regulated. You know, Marlboro can't buy an ad that says cigarettes are good for you. You can't call your product organic when you advertise it if it's not. You can't lie about the price of the product you're selling in an ad.
The government has always regulated that kind of speech, and this was another kind of regulation of commercial speech. And that, I think, is something Congress has always done and the government has always done. And that's why this decision was really inappropriate.
KURTZ: Go ahead, Floyd.
ABRAMS: But this has never been considered commercial speech. This is political speech. There's no speech more political than this sort of speech.
And sure -- sure the courts have said in a purely commercial area, you can't get on television and lie about your products, but they have always said that the First Amendment protects speech about who to vote for. And here we have consumers -- here we have citizens united doing a movie blasting Hillary Clinton, and we're saying that that can be criminal because it's broadcast too close to an election?
TOOBIN: The regulation of commercial speech and the regulation of the campaign process, who gives money, how much money you can give, how you can spend that money, this has been done since the beginning of the 20th century. This is very routine stuff, that the government has been regulating commercial speech that relates to politics or, if you want to call it political speech, that's what makes this speech -- this decision so unusual, because this is an area where they've been regulating for decades. KURTZ: Jeff, let me jump in and ask you a question about the coverage, because Floyd Abrams is suggesting that you and your colleagues kind of missed the point in that you, most journalists -- not all, but many journalists -- work for corporations, and that it's important for corporations to have rights just like individual reporters and editors and producers do.
TOOBIN: Well, I can't speak for all of the press, but it is certainly true that it is very important to all of us. You and I, we work for Time Warner. Time Warner, in addition to being a very big company, is a company that does newsgathering, and we desperately need the protections of the First Amendment. And a corporation, in that sense, should have rights.
But the question is, is that right to be extended to every corporation doing anything, including things that have nothing to do with newsgathering or news media?
KURTZ: And Floyd Abrams, "The New York Times" and others, in their news coverage, have raised this question: At what point does this become bribery? XYZ corporation tells a senator, you know, we really would like your vote on this piece of deregulatory legislation, and it would really be a shame if we had to go and spend $1 million, $2 million on ads supporting your opponent.
That kind of pressure clearly could happen now that this ban has been lifted.
ABRAMS: Well, look, that sort of pressure always could have happened, because as you rightly pointed out at the beginning, the change in law here, very important though it is -- the change in law is not to allow this political speech during the last 60 days of a campaign and 30 days before a convention and the like. So that was always possible.
The reality is we've got 25 states out there that already allow unlimited, absolutely unlimited spending by corporations, and we have not seen examples that, as a matter of reality, indicates that anything bad has happened. All we've had is some more speech about politics.
And for people who care about the First Amendment, I would have thought they'd say, hey, that's a good thing. That's what the First Amendment is all about.
KURTZ: Jeff Toobin, whether you agree with this decision or not, doesn't this eviscerate the argument that only liberal judges engage in judicial activism? I mean, John Roberts and his majority here have overturned decades of precedence in order to come up with this ruling.
TOOBIN: Well, in many respects, Howie, I think that's the biggest message of this case, is that the conservatives in this court are engaged in a big project to overturn lots of precedent, to overturn the work of legislatures, whether it's legislatures that pass gun control laws, that sponsor affirmative action, that allow abortion rights. All of those precedents are going to be attacked by this -- four of these justices. Anthony Kennedy harder to say, but it all depends on who is on the court.
KURTZ: I appreciate both of you coming in on short notice.
Floyd Abrams, Jeffrey Toobin, thanks for stopping by.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Apple's new super gizmo. Is the media hype out of control?
Plus, the pimp gets busted. Conservative activist James O'Keefe arrested at a Democratic senator's office, and the Fox News host who celebrated him practically ignored the story.
Plus, no joke. Jay Leno opens up to Oprah about bumping Conan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST: Let some time pass. I would hope we can talk about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: When James O'Keefe posed as a pimp last year, gathering that devastating undercover footage of ACORN staffers appearing to tolerate teenage prostitution, he became a conservative hero. While the hidden camera tactic was controversial, the story was legitimate and the mainstream media disturbingly slow in covering it. But the O'Keefe sting ran constantly, around the clock, on Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: There is new and big trouble for ACORN.
BECK: ACORN, the people who were sitting there and saying, yes, don't worry about those 13-year-olds that are being used as hookers, it's corrupt.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: This is a "Fox News Alert." The massive scandal involving ACORN continues to spread tonight.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Rarely does a piece of investigative reporting get such a big and quick response. And rarely is the undercover reporter such a fascinating character.
Here is our "Power Player of the Week."
JAMES O'KEEFE, FILMMAKER: If you use their rules against them, you can really just tease them and mock them and really destroy them.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Response was dramatically different this week when O'Keefe was arrested at the office of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, charged in a plot to interfere with her telephone lines. That day there, there was no mention of O'Keefe's on Bill O'Reilly's show, no mention on Sean Hannity's show. CNN covered it modestly, but MSNBC's liberal hosts kept leading with it in prime time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: If some Democrat operative liberal, young liberal, liberal with a video camera were alleged to have done this in the offices of a Republican senator somewhere in this country, no matter how rinky-dink the actual operation was, or what color hat he was wearing, would not the right-wing echo chamber have already jumped to treason by now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if not treason, then possibly terrorism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Bill O'Reilly did call O'Keefe's actions insane the next night. But, still, is this a case of ideological outrage depending on which side just plain looks bad?
Joining us now in New York, cultural commentator Lola Ogunnaike. And here in Washington, Lauren Ashburn, president of Ashburn Media and a former managing editor of "USA Today."
Lauren Ashburn, does this strike you as fair and balanced, for Fox to virtually ignore O'Keefe's arrest in prime time?
LAURA ASHBURN, PRESIDENT, ASHBURN MEDIA: I think that because of who he is, they are playing to both sides. They are ideologically based in their evening shows, as you have said.
They're reporting it from a slant. They are not fair and balanced in the evening when you have people like Bill O'Reilly on. And so they have a choice at that point.
They can make their point, their message about what they want or what they don't want to do. So I think the long answer to your question is yes.
KURTZ: Lola, O'Keefe is going to appear tomorrow on Sean Hannity's show to tell his side for the first time, I guess, and there were reports during the day on Fox News about this. But O'Keefe is a guy that Fox championed as a new kind of undercover journalist.
LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CULTURAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's interesting that they're trying to downplay him, because, I mean, to treat him like an inconsequential figure seems a bit hypocritical to me.
At one point, this guy was championed as the new face of journalism, a new activist, sort of being held up as a hero. For them to virtually ignore him in the evening, I call into question where exactly they're coming from, and there seems to be an ulterior motive there.
KURTZ: On the other hand, Lauren Ashburn, MSNBC went wild when the story broke. And Olbermann led with it again on Thursday night. And their liberal hosts seemed delighted that this conservative activist has gotten into trouble.
ASHBURN: Right. Well, I was talking to somebody and they said the only thing that was missing that was he wasn't wearing a costume at this time. Like, maybe he was in drag.
KURTZ: So there was no good video.
ASHBURN: That's exactly my point. Right.
And, you know, I think that this is a really good ad for the Columbia Journalism School or the Madill School. You know, is this guy really an investigative journalist? I mean, everybody just sort of seemed to believe that last time around.
Is he? Is he really -- does he know what he's doing? Has he taken Ethics 101 in school? I mean, I think that this guy is really going down a dangerous path here, and he will be lucky -- he will be lucky if something doesn't happen.
KURTZ: On the other hand, Lola Ogunnaike, O'Keefe put out a statement, and he did say, "On reflection, I could have used a different approach to this investigation." Yes.
But also accusing the media, using the phrase "media malpractice." And he does point out that "The Washington Post" had to run two corrections for saying in one instance that he had been accused of bugging Senator Landrieu's phones and that Rachel Maddow had talked about a gag order in the case. There was no gag order.
But I don't know that a few mistakes in handling this means that there's media malpractice.
OGUNNAIKE: It's not media malpractice. This guy doesn't know the first thing about true journalism. He's a glorified prankster. He doesn't deserve the attention that we're giving him.
And I do think that what he's doing, entering into a senator's office, attempting to tamper with the senator's phone, that is a serious, serious issue right here. That's not something that should be taken lightly at all.
He's facing possibly 10 years and prison and a $250 fine. That's not a prank. That could land you in prison. And he really needs to rethink his approach to "journalism."
KURTZ: It is a serious case, indeed.
I want to turn now -- you know, we've talked for many weeks on this program about the Jay Leno soap opera. And Leno went on Oprah Winfrey's show this week. She really pressed him and I thought was a very skillful interviewer. Got him to reveal things that I had never heard him say before.
Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LENO: It broke my heart. It really did. I was devastated. This is a job that I had always wanted, and it was the only job that ever mattered in showbiz to me.
OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: America has taken sides, and a lot of people are not on your side.
LENO: Yes, I understand that.
WINFREY: And they're not on your side because they think that you have been selfish in this.
LENO: It all comings down to numbers in show business. If you're getting the ratings -- I mean, think of this -- this is almost the perfect storm of bad things happening.
WINFREY: Do you feel you're being unfairly portrayed by the media?
LENO: Yes, I think so. I think so. But I think you have to look for a bad guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, unfairly portrayed by the media. And does it help Jay Leno to go on "Oprah" and pour his heart out?
ASHBURN: Well, isn't that what everybody does? I mean, we're a society of, we flog them and then we allow them to redeem themselves.
KURTZ: But he didn't cry.
ASHBURN: No. Yes, right. Darn it. Her ratings probably would have been higher.
But, you know, my point here is there are two points. That, ,one, I think that Oprah is the place to go. But did you notice, he didn't go to Oprah? Oprah came to him.
KURTZ: Yes, I did notice.
ASHBURN: And so, I think that it's sort of -- there was something in that, that he was saying, oh, yes, you can come to me and we'll talk this through.
And then the other part of it was, I agree with you. I think that, yes, he did have a lot to say. He was very open. But he also held his ground in a way that I think that a lot of people in society aren't going to like.
KURTZ: But he held his ground, Lola, on these points. He kept saying that he was not being selfish, that he didn't know that his show was going to be canceled at 10:00, that he didn't know he'd be asked to go back at 11:30, that he agreed to do a half hour so NBC could try to keep Conan O'Brien at midnight. He feels like he was not the bad guy here, even though that's how he's being portrayed in the press.
OGUNNAIKE: Well, I think it's interesting that Jay Leno has clearly decided to not quite paint himself as a victim, but as someone who is just going along, going with the flow -- I'm just this accommodating guy who keeps getting jerked around by NBC, when, in fact, Jay Leno is a actually a pretty shrewd businessman and he's really figured out how to get his job, the job that he's always wanted back.
The interesting thing...
KURTZ: What exactly did he do to get his job back? What happened is that Conan tanked in the ratings, Jay tanked in the ratings in prime time, and NBC had to make a move because it was losing zillions.
OGUNNAIKE: Yes, but Jay Leno could have -- and Oprah did press him on this, and I thought she did a good job about that -- he could have left. He could have retired gracefully and given Conan a chance, and left NBC without an alternative. But Jay Leno is right there to take his job right back.
ASHBURN: Wait a minute. Who in television is going to do that?
You've got -- you know, this is what he lives for. There are a handful of people who have been famous doing this, and they say to him, well, we can give you your job back or you can just sort of sail into the sunset. This is a guy who takes his vacations to do standup comedy. I mean...
OGUNNAIKE: And I completely agree with you. But I think that people didn't understand just how attached Jay Leno was to this job and just how important this job was to all these comedians out there until something like this happened. I mean, this is like "The Lord of the Rings" and everyone is chasing after the precious -- the precious being that "Tonight Show" chair. Like, give me the chair..
ASHBURN: But also, the problem is that they are attacking sometimes the wrong person. I mean, they're attacking either Jay or Conan.
What about NBC? There is no face to NBC. I mean, nobody really knows what Jeff Zucker looks like.
KURTZ: I'm all for saying that NBC...
OGUNNAIKE: Well, they actually do know what Jeff Zucker looks like now, because David Letterman has made it a point to flash Jeff Zucker's picture every evening.
ASHBURN: All the time. KURTZ: I've got to move on.
OGUNNAIKE: So they know exactly what he looks like.
KURTZ: But I want to say that, you know, Leno did make the point that if he just retired gracefully, 175 staff members would lose their jobs. At least that's part of the way he looks at it.
All right. Before we go, "OK" magazine had a cover -- let's look at the original photo of Kourtney Kardashian. She's one of these people who's famous for being famous. She just had a baby, and so she looks like she just had a baby.
But here is the cover of the magazine, if we can switch to that. It talks about how she slimmed down after the baby by diet secrets. Well, she says that this was Photoshopped from the waste up, that she didn't lose all that wait, she never even talked to the magazine.
Lauren Ashburn, does this bother you?
ASHBURN: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. OK, so let me get this right.
This is what all women in America are thinking right now -- they showed her 20 points lighter and the problem is? I mean, come on. You want to show me 20 pounds lighter, fine, I'll take it.
KURTZ: Lola, I'm sure you'll agree with me that the problem is dishonest journalism.
ASHBURN: Oh, right.
OGUNNAIKE: It's a complete lie. I mean, women are used to people being touched up here. You erase the pimple, you erase the stretch marks. But to drop 20 pounds, to lop off her belly? That's egregious, and for "OK!" magazine to pass that off as true, that's just wrong.
ASHBURN: Right. But you don't buy "OK!" for the news value.
OGUNNAIKE: It's just wrong.
ASHBURN: I mean, you know when you're reading "OK!" that this is not news. Right?
OGUNNAIKE: But listen...
KURTZ: But you think the pictures are real.
OGUNNAIKE: They're not real though.
ASHBURN: You do?
OGUNNAIKE: And they're pregnant...
(CROSSTALK) ASHBURN: How many airbrush technologists do you know?
ASHBURN: I mean, seriously.
OGUNNAIKE: Oh, come on. There are pregnant women across the country right now who are crying their eyes out because they don't think they can lose 20 pounds in four weeks. And I feel sorry for those pregnant women.
ASHBURN: Oh boy.
KURTZ: And on that note, Lola Ogunnaike, Lauren Ashburn, thanks very much for joining us.
After the break, the iPad makes its world debut. Did Apple manage to manipulate the media once again?
KURTZ: The suspense kept building before Wednesday's big event. The reporters kept looking for leaks. The pundits kept chattering.
What would he say? Would he, could he live up to expectations?
It was the day of President Obama's State of the Union, but the really big mystery was about Steve Jobs. Apple was tantalizing the tech writers, cloaking a big product rollout in secrecy until Jobs told the world about the iPad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Also this morning, will Apple shake up the world of electronic readers? It's poised to unveil its new tablet that could do for the written word what the iPod has done for music.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Maybe not since Moses has a tablet created so much buzz. Apple unveils its latest must-have product.
COURIC: It's being called an iPhone on steroids.
WILLIAMS: Apple might once again have landed on the next big thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, are the media once again over-hyping a new Apple gizmo?
Joining us now from London, Robin Liss, the founder of Reviewed.com. And in New York, Steven Levy, staff writer for "Wired" magazine.
So, Robin Liss, looking back at the buildup, the anticipation, the frenzied speculation, what would the name be, how does Apple keep pulling off this trick with the media?
ROBIN LISS, FOUNDER, REVIEWED.COM: You know, what happens, Howard, is Apple does create cool products. And you to give them credit for that.
LISS: But they use the spin cycle, tornado-like spin cycle of selective leaks, lots of chatter and lead-in, and also controlling access to information in what I would call maybe a manipulative way so that journalists are just salivating for that scoop on the tablet when the news does come down.
KURTZ: And Steve Levy, the media do seem to give Apple the equivalent of a multibillion-dollar buzz campaign every time out.
STEVEN LEVY, STAFF WRITER, "WIRED": Well, I don't think journalists are being manipulated, because it's not like we're shoving things down people's throats. There's an credible hunger for people to know what's happening, what's Apple going to do next. And that doesn't come just because it's a fun story about Steve Jobs.
It's because these products have changed people's live. They want to know if Apple is going to be able to do it again.
KURTZ: I see.
Robin, you know, unlike the iPhone, unlike the iPod, this tablet device is a new category. So, doesn't Steve Jobs almost need the media to help create a demand for it?
LISS: I think he absolutely does need the media. But to be fair, netbooks have been very popular the past two years. And that's a very similar product. And in many ways, as I understand it, the iPad is kind of just a larger iPhone with some added features.
But he does need the media to perpetuate the image and the brand of Apple, which is what, in large part, carries these products to these unbelievable levels of success. And I don't have a problem with the media covering Apple aggressively. It's interesting stuff, and Steve Jobs has revolutionized electronics.
What I have a problem with is that the media sometimes doesn't ask Apple the tough questions that I think they should be. And specifically, ask Steve Jobs those tough questions.
KURTZ: Well, Steven Levy, was the iPad worth the hype? I mean, it's got no camera, no webcam. And some of your fellow critics are saying, you know, it's a really nice product, but nothing revolutionary.
LEVY: Well, you really have to look at what's going to happen with the iPad. It really is something a little different.
The surprise is that Apple isn't just spinning it as a reader. This is what the magazine and newspaper industry were hoping for, but, really, the next generation beyond the laptop of what we're going to carry around with us all the time there. And if they can get a lot of people to write applications for it, it might blossom into that and into a new category there.
KURTZ: Could it help the newspaper and magazine business?
LEVY: Well, it could, but there are some problems just generically with it, because you have to go through Apple in order to put your stuff on the thing. You could go through the Web. You could do a Web site and have it through the browser, but the real powerful stuff is going to be submitting it to Apple and selling it on the Apple store. And a lot of publishers don't like that because then the relationship is between Apple and the customers instead of the publisher and the customer.
KURTZ: Right. And doesn't provide as much revenue as they might have hoped.
Robin Liss, if the iPad ends up not selling all that well, will journalists write stories saying it was a disappointment, or do they really just shy away from taking on Apple?
LISS: Well, you know, to be honest, I think there is very little criticism of Apple's products. There's something called Apple TV. You hear very little about this.
And Apple does have flops. And, in fact, it becomes kind of this self-perpetuating cycle where, because there's so much interest, journalists want them to be successful, they don't want to be proven wrong, that the products aren't successful. So, I don't know if it is a flop, how much you'll hear about it.
KURTZ: Steven, jump in here on this question of...
LEVY: Well, I think if you look at what's happening on the Web, there's been an unbelievable positive and negative on the iPad, an amazing discussion, really within a couple days. Almost everything you can imagine has been said positive and negative about it. So, I think there's really an amazing flourishing controversy and discussion about what's going on there. It's crazy to say that Apple has not gotten positive and negative in the response to the iPad launch.
KURTZ: This debate is going to continue.
Robin Liss over there in London, and Steven Levy in New York.
Thanks very much for joining us this morning.
LEVY: Thank you.
KURTZ: Up next, John Edwards' former pal takes to the airwaves with a sleazy book about the affair and the love child. Should the press believe a guy who was part of a cover-up?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: We already knew that John Edwards was a liar. Make that a serial liar. He finally admit that "The National Enquirer" was right along, that he is the father of Rielle Hunter's baby. Now his ailing wife Elizabeth has finally separated from him, saying, according to "People" magazine, "I want my life back."
Now, should the media keep delving into the slimy details?
KURTZ (voice-over): ABC News cracked the case by interviewing Andrew Young, who, you will not be shocked to learn, has a book coming out. Now, Young has credibility problems. The married former Edwards aide was at the heart of the cover-up, making the ludicrous claim that he was the father of the baby.
He talked about that in an interview Friday on "20/20."
ANDREW YOUNG, FMR. EDWARDS AIDE: He wanted me to issue a statement claiming paternity for Rielle's child. And so he starts telling me, you know, "Look, I can win Iowa."
KURTZ: Young's book, "The Politician," says the former presidential candidate called his one-time videographer a "crazy slut," wanted her to get an abortion, and that Rielle thought the baby was the reincarnation of a Buddhist monk.
It says that Elizabeth learned of the affair when she answered her cell phone and heard her husband's mistress launch into a romantic monologue. It says Edwards secretly paid Rielle Hunter's expenses with funds from socialite Bunny Mellon -- the "Bunny Money," it was called -- without her knowledge.
YOUNG: There was one tape that was marked special. And we're just aghast. It's a sex tape of Rielle and John Edwards made just a couple of months before the Iowa caucuses.
KURTZ: Of course, Young's book may be nothing but an attempt to inflict revenge on Edwards, who he says was obsessed with his hair, and cash in on his role in this tragic farce. The book and the couple's separation has generated plenty of media chatter.
A.J. HAMMER, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT": "Dear John, I've had it." That is the explosive message today to John Edwards from his wife Elizabeth, who has had it with his cheating, sleazy ways.
WILLIAMS: In a statement, the former senator called it "an extraordinarily sad moment" and said he still cares deeply about his wife.
TINA BROWN, DAILYBEAST.COM: This has been a kind of slow-mo catastrophe that the nation has participated in. I mean, what does it take to have a wife leave you? I mean, at this point, you just feel, Elizabeth Edwards, like, get out of that house.
(END VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ: So, with Edwards' political career in ruins, should we still care about this tawdry episode?
Look, he was the party's VP candidate and had a serious shot at the Democratic nomination last time around. He sent his cancer- stricken wife out to campaign for him while carrying on with a woman whose baby he would pretend wasn't his. The media, which once touted Edwards as a golden boy, now ought to hold him fully accountable for this ugly mess.
Still to come, this network tracks down the big-time anchors who dined with the president before the State of the Union. And they were dodging questions.
Turning the tables, next.
KURTZ: It's a longstanding ritual, the president inviting the network anchors and the Sunday morning hosts over for lunch on the day of the State of the Union. But since the conversation is off the record, not even on background, I've never quite gotten what the journalists get out of it other than good company and a nice meal.
Well, CNN's Ed Henry did a bit of intrepid reporting in hunting down Barack Obama's guests.
ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Williams, come on.
WILLIAMS: Can't tell you about...
HENRY: Well, it's off the record.
WILLIAMS: Lunch was off the record. I have nothing for you right now.
HENRY: Come on. Nothing?
WILLIAMS: We had -- talks were fruitful and productive.
HENRY: Productive? It sounds like a normal stakeout here at the White House.
WILLIAMS: And we're looking to a good conclusion, but I think to say anything at this point would prejudice what's been a good process of give and take on both sides.
HENRY: What did you have for lunch?
WILLIAMS: I can't comment on anything we did or did not have, or whether food was consumed.
HENRY: We're with Ali Velshi right now. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, Katie.
HENRY: How was lunch? How was lunch?
COURIC: It was nice. It was very nice.
HENRY: Yes? Can you talk about it, or is it off the record?
COURIC: It's pretty much off the record.
COURIC: And ask your guy. He was there.
HENRY: I know. John King wouldn't tell me anything.
COURIC: John King -- really?
HENRY: I got no luck.
KURTZ: Boy, they can be as evasive as the politicians when it comes to dodging questions.
And John King, as I turn things back over to you for the final time this Sunday morning, you didn't give Ed Henry anything. But what did you get out of the off-the-record gathering? Is it a good thing for journalists to do?
KING: It's a debatable thing, because off the record gets you into the question, why would you sit down with a politician off the record? But this is a longstanding tradition.
What you get out of it is a sense of the president's mood, a sense of his priorities. You get to spend a little time with his senior staff as well. And to the point where I wouldn't even tell my friend and colleague Ed Henry anything, I gave my word to the president of the United States. And when I give my word, I keep it.
KURTZ: You stood your ground.
And John, as everyone knows, you are moving to start your show in February at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Is there a little twinge of regret at giving up this fine platform?
KING: I will miss it, Howie. I love my Sunday mornings.
Sunday mornings, as I said early, is a special time in homes around America. People are with their family, many are getting ready to go to church or just coming home from church. And that they invite you in to spend a few minutes on a Sunday morning is a huge gift and a privilege. And I'm grateful for the opportunity and the experience.
And I will miss it, without a doubt.
KURTZ: And we will miss you.
Candy Crowley takes the reins next week, and that means RELIABLE SOURCES will move to a new time. That will be 11:00 a.m. Eastern for an hour, 8:00 a.m. on the West Coast.
So we hope you'll check us out then.
And John, once again, take it away.
KING: Howie, you take care and have a great Sunday.